Thee Comic Column #114: My Favorite Comics of 2014

a-voice-in-the-dark-04Wow. I read a lot of comics this year. Not just the stuff I’ve been reading, continually from year to year (there’s less and less of that with ‘classic’ titles/characters as reboots continue to constantly re-boot, rejuvenate (?) and re-evaluate the ongoing properties of the big 2) but there was a literal flood of great, new comics that hit the shelves this year. And some old friends of course; not everyone is interesting in covering up old scars. And even with all that I did read it’s clear I didn’t get to them all – reading fellow Joupitter Tommy’s year end blow-out spectacular I was shocked to see his favorite was Spread. Shocked because, well, I don’t remember even hearing about this book! Couple with that quite a few other titles on my radar that I missed out on and you’ll see this isn’t  a list compiled by someone who read everything there was to read in the 2014 world of comics, but by someone who tried really hard to read as much of it as he could. All that said, this list isn’t only for new books, simply the best comic series I read in 2014, continuing or new.

Alright, let’s get into it, shall we?

STK652986Southern Bastards: In just the first six issues of their new creator-owned book from Image Comics Jason Aaron and Jason Latour have laid the groundwork to a story I am anticipating being both epically violent and unflinchingly emotional. Southern Bastards started out as a very beautiful visual way of dealing with nothing but ugliness, but it very quickly sowed those seeds into a gut punch in issue 5 that just left me saying, “this book is not at all what I thought it was.” What is it then? I don’t really know, and that is just making me want more more MORE!!!

 

2089608-elephantmen_036__2011__pagecoverElephantmen: It’s been on the stands for close to ten years and I have only just now gotten around to Richard Starkings’s Elephantmen. Verdict? I’m hooked. Not just because the characters are awesome, the art is beautiful or the tone plays with genres I love. No. My new obsession with Elephantmen is in the absolutely enormous scale Mr. Starkings has set up for himself. This is a very well-thought out, very well-researched world and from what I’ve read so far of the series, Mr. Starkings approaches it in a very strategic, disciplined manner, so that we’re given only what we need when we need it. This is the poker pro’s method of storytelling – throw a hint out here or there, but hold back those really great cards until you absolutely have to show them. That makes their impact that much more profound. The current storyline is proof of this.

rp_STK6420321-300x411.jpgTed McKeever’s The Superannuated Man: Every moment of this book is pure, unadulterated bliss. I’m not normally one to go ga-ga over a book’s art, but that seems to be changing this year, and Mr. McKeever was definitely at the top of my visual list. Like the next book on this list, The Superannuated Man is a great example of the kind of synergy that occurs in graphic storytelling when the writer is also the artist. And Mr. McKeever has been doing this pretty much by his own rules long enough that the fluidity of the story occurs in a manner that completely bypasses the surface level of the reading experience. I.E. you know when you sit down in a dark theatre and completely lose yourself in a film? Same thing happens to me pretty much every time I watch this book. And it is a pleasure that never gets old.

rp_Stray_Bullets_-_The_Killers_01-cover.jpgStray Bullets: Killers: After almost nine years the return of David Lapham’s Stray Bullets, now under the Image banner was, well, one of the greatest things ever. And the book has not disappointed one iota. The danger and crazy, visceral violence is still there, and so is the gut-wrenchingly beautiful emotion that connects us to these characters. It’s been great getting re-acquainted with Virginia, and the thought that now, when the book picks up with a new arc at the end of the month Mr. Lapham is going back to fill in the gaps of just what exactly went down with Beth, Nina and Orson and Harry’s coke, we’ll get to hang with the ‘old crew’ again! Stray Bullets continues to jump all over Mr. Lapham’s timeline while hitting all the major nodes of my love of comic books: characters I feel for, stories that are engaging and epic-scale and the best damn dialogue maybe ever!

thefadeout_03_web72The Fade Out: Although I’ve read a few of the series Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have done over the years I’ve not followed any of them with a semblance of regularity. I dig the pulp stuff, but to a degree. The Fade Out however hits all my pulp/noir favorite components: 40’s Hollywood, McCarthyism, Black-out drinking and murdered starlets (imagine trying to fill that Christmas list!). I mentioned the synergy of the writer/artist above, but need to add the addendum here that when those roles are filled by two separate people who have the kind of long working relationship Mr. Brubaker and Mr. Phillips have, a similar type of energy tends to take over the work and really make it ‘cinematic’. And what better topic for a cinematic book such as this then the topsy turvy world of 1940s Hollywood?

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailA Voice in the Dark: Larime Taylor’s A Voice in the Dark is not only a fantastically plotted, paced and executed thriller, it is also a testament to humanity’s ability to conquer anything. The remarkably realistic approach Mr. Taylor takes in crafting his characters and the nuanced situations he puts them through are only enhanced by the fact that not only does Larime write and draw this book, he does pretty much everything else to! With the additions of colors for the latest arc “Get  Your Gun”, A Voice in the Dark is still the book I recommend to everyone, all the time. So if you’re not reading it, you know, go to your local comic shop or here and buy the first trade!

DeadlyGridFinalDeadly Class: The fact that Deadly Class takes place in the 80s and does such a great job utilizing the cultural tone of that decade, as opposed to just the visual cues, makes it near and dear to me. If you read the back section of the book you’ve heard Rick Remender talk about how some of the story lines are directly based on experiences he had as a teenager during the post-punk decade, and being that Mr. Remender wears many of his musical influences on his sleeve – a good thing – Deadly Class really synthesizes that Reagan-era, apocalyptic drug trip of a decade into a fantastic narrative that, so far, has flawlessly combined elements of the Young Adult Adventure Movie genre and The Drug-Induced Road Trip Movie with the kind of dark-as-fuck, cutting edge storytelling we’ve previously seen in books like Preacher and, um, this next one here…

132_CoverThe Walking Dead: And last but most certainly not least. This list isn’t really ranked in order, however I have saved the best for last. Even after ten years plus Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead still reigns supreme as the longest running “best book of the month” every month. I’m still not a fan of the show, but Mr. Kirkman continues to make the source material fresh and jaw-droppingly awesome on a remorselessly consistent basis. The recent reconfiguring of the story’s timeline and changes to the ‘lay of the land’ have made The Walking Dead better than it’s ever been, and that is really saying something, because through many different ‘eras’ – often defined by who is still alive, who is new to the group and where Rick, Karl and the others are currently setting up whatever level of a fledgling society they can at the moment – The Walking Dead has ALWAYS been increasingly awesome. And while the previous twelve issues of this book have me theorizing we’re over the half-way point of the series, TWD is not slowing down, not dropping off and still the first book I read as soon as I get it in my hands every month. Way to go Mr. Kirkman, and thank you for an awesome decade! Here’s to as many more years of this as you see fit to give us!

And there you have it! With this seemingly unstoppable flood of great books hitting the shelves left and right, I’m looking forward to 2015 being even better for comics!

……………………..

Can’t find a comic shop? You can always use old reliable Comic Shop Locator at 1-800-COMIC-BOOK. Or you can take some of my recommendations. If you live in the greater Chicagoland area I recommend any of the wonderful four locations of Amazing Fantasy Books. In Los Angeles it’s The Comic Bug. Las Vegas it’s Alternate Reality Comics. San Francisco? Try the Isotope Comic Lounge and if you happen to venture a little further North I’d say you have to visit The Escapist Comic Book Store in Berkley (with the wonderful Dark Carnival Books next door and owned by the same folks). Read on!!!

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

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